Man walks into a strange bar in the east end of Glasgow.
"You got anything to eat in here, pal?" he says to the burly barman with the bushy black beard and the tattoos crawling up and down his arms. The barman looks away. The man senses he's the only person in the place wearing a suit. He notices a biker sitting further down the bar slowly moving his pint to get a better view of the action and realises the song that was playing a moment ago has either finished or paused long enough for the whine of a police siren out on Duke Street to fill the otherwise silent room.
The barman looks back at the man. The barman is now smiling. "Yes we do, pal," the barman says, pointing to a chalkboard. "We have chicken fried in panko breadcrumbs and served in a steamed Chinese bun. We have baby peppers stuffed with ricotta and we also have our own slow-cooked pork belly - cured for 14 hours, roasted for two - with hoi sin, srirarcha sauce and little chopped cucumbers."
True story, and proof were it needed that the east end is a-changing. Not just because former trad boozer Redmond's here is now all light wood booths and modern wallpapers. It also puts out press releases saying it pays it staff the minimum living wage of £7.65 an hour and gives them 10 per cent of the profits. In a world where more and more staff seem to be grumbling about owners pocketing big shares of their tips that's refreshing. Not either because of the Commonwealth Games, which have long packed up and moved on, but perhaps because the west end has become stodgy and dull, and perhaps because that thriving strip of restaurants over at Finnieston has filled up completely. People have noticed that Coia's Cafe just up the road goes like a fair from dawn to dusk while Cellini's just over the hill is also always rammed. Folks are clearly coming to the east end to eat. Is Dennistoun the new Hillhead?
I'm told by a cousin who thought about opening a coffee bar hereabouts that there are 10 cafes on Duke Street alone and Redmond's isn't the only former traditional bar round here to go upmarket, food wise. The nearby Duchess has pictures of mozzarella salad on Facebook and posts ham hock parfaits on Twitter. Crikey.
But back to Redmond's. There's a table of guys who have clearly come in just for the pork buns. These are modelled on the recipe that made New York's David Chang and Momofuku world famous. The bun, or the roll, is made from puffed white Chinese dim sum dough and contains super tender pork powerfully flavoured by the sweet hoi sin, the hot srirarcha and crisp cucumber. I eat mine in minutes then immediately try to order another, but they're already sold out. The chicken marinated in buttermilk and fried in panko is crisp and light, and confirms that the Chinese bun gives a cleaner, more balanced flavour than a bread roll.
There's a plate of red chillis stuffed with salty ricotta, side salads dressed tartly with oil and lemon, and the best melting, light, salted caramel brownie - made, the barman tells me, by his sister - I've ever tasted. OK, I didn't try the duck and blood orange salad or the portobello mushroom with walnut sauce in a bun. And the flatbread pizzas are apparently no longer made from flatbreads but are traditional - in theory, anyway - and frankly too stodgy, too-scone like in their texture and far too unevenly fired to justify the price or the fancy anchovy topping.
I do like Redmond's, though, with its old new feel, its knowledgeable and affable staff, and its pork buns, which, as David Chang has already proven to his lasting good fortune, people will travel a very long way for.
304 Duke Street, Glasgow (07837 393049)
David Chang pork buns, ricotta-stuffed chillis, feta and watermelon salad. Not your normal east end pub grub. 5/5
Old-school boozer facelifted with light wood. Friendly feel, comfortable enough and mildly busy when I was in. 3/5
Staff share in the profits and get a minimum of £7.65 an hour. It shows. They're motivated and well-informed. 5/5
Two buns for £7.50 is decent value, as is a plateful of stuffed peppers for £4, but they need to rethink those £7.50 pizzas. 4/5
Even if it is someone else's recipe, doing the pork buns properly pays off and is worth the visit alone. 6/10
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